Exploring the origins of a modern-ish word is like trying to find your perfect mate via online dating, it is incredibly convoluted and filled with cockamamie stories, all more fun than the last. Lets start with what we do know. What is a cocktail?
Sternly, I’ll tell you what its not. It’s not a vodka and Redbull. Its not a Mississippi Mudslide. And, its definitely not a Jager-bomb. The definition of a cocktail was first published in The Balance and Columbian Repository in 1806 in an editorial in response to the question, “What is a cock-tail?”. It read: “Cocktail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters-- it is vulgarly called bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head.” The cocktail has evolved, but the definition still holds up on a basic level.
Definitions aside, the origins of the word is where we really start to have some fun. There are many theories, some seemingly an easy truth and some so outlandish that we just hope they are true. Here are some of our faves:
On a very literal level, it was said that early farmers, as the dawn broke, would have a drink to begin the day when the cocks began to crow. We’d like to think if a morning cocktail helped build this great country, it can certainly help sustain it.
Along the same literal lines of the first theory, there are multiple stories of a rooster’s tail-feather (a cock tail) being used as a colonial garnish for drinks.
Bartender, a 1936 British publication, wrote a story of sailors of earlier times being served mixed drinks in Mexico stirred with a Cola de Gallo, a long root with a similar shape to a rooster’s tail.
Cock Tailings is also a term that sometimes refers to the leftover bottom dredgings of a cask of ale. It is said that the cock tailings from various spirits would be mixed together and sold as a lower priced, and lower quality, beverage.
Another fun, but unlikely, version is the word cocktail may be a distant derivation of the name Xochiti, the name of an Aztec goddess. Xochiti is also rumored to be the name of a Mexican princess who served drinks to American soldiers.
The American cocktail resurgence has taken over the drinking culture over the past decade and cocktails themselves have evolved in a big way. But before we get overly convoluted and confused, we must remember to return to our cocktail roots. In words of a very wise lion: “Remember who you are.”